PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • The author of Voices in the Night reveals the mesmerizing journey of an American dreamer as he walks a haunted line between fantasy and reality, madness and ambition, art and industry.
“This wonderful, wonder-full book is a fable and phantasmagoria of the sources of our century.” —The New York Times Book Review
Young Martin Dressler begins his career as an industrious helper in his father's cigar store. In the course of his restless young manhood, he makes a swift and eventful rise to the top, accompanied by two sisters--one a dreamlike shadow, the other a worldly business partner. As the eponymous Martin's vision becomes bolder and bolder, a sense of doom builds piece-by-hypnotic piece until this mesmerizing journey reaches its bitter-sweet conclusion.
Literature's romance with the building-as-metaphor earns new energy through Millhauser's latest novel (after Little Kingdoms, 1993), which quietly chronicles the life of an entrepreneur whose career peaks when he builds a fabulous hotel in turn-of-the-century Manhattan. Beginning with his first jobs-in his father's cigar shop and as a bellhop-young Martin's rise is fueled by a happy blend of pragmatism and imagination. Both inform the design of the cafes and hotels he builds as an adult, though the latter seems to gain sway in the construction of his magnum opus, the Grand Cosmo. Within the rusticated walls of that grand hotel, one floor's elevators open onto "a densely wooded countryside" dotted with cottages; another floor simulates a rugged mountainside, featuring "caves" furnished with beds, plumbing and "refrigerated air." For recreation, guests can wander in the artificial moonlight of the Pleasure Park or visit the Temple of Poesy, where young women in Green tunics will recite poetry, 24 hours a day. Such amenities speak of Dressler's view of the hotel as "a world within the world, rivaling the world." In deliberate contrast stands Millhauser's cooler evocation of his protagonist's private life. The magnate's genial sister-in-law works for him, while the troubles of his neurasthenic wife-"his sister's sister, his tense, languous, floating, ungraspable bride"-reflect his increasingly manic, untethered imaginings. Millhauser's characteristic fascination with the material artifacts of the vanished past-and the startling deftness with which he can describe the street, the carnival, the hotel that never existed-marks him as a cultural historian as well as an idiosyncratic fabulist. Taking its place alongside other fine tales of architectural symbology, from Poe to Borges to Ayn Rand, this enticing novel becomes at once the tale of a life, a marriage and a creative imagination in crisis.
Beautifully written novel of rags to riches with a surprise ending. One of my favorite books.
Too descriptive, and the characters, meh
All adjectives and minimal story, rarely stop reading but had to put this book aside.